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Knights trio Pearce, Ponga and Best fade in elimination final

Newcastle Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga watches on Albert Perez/Getty Images

Their return played a key role in Newcastle reaching the 2021 NRL finals, it's just a shame Kalyn Ponga, Mitchell Pearce and Bradman Best failed to fire once they got there.

A bullet-pass from Ponga to set up winger Enari Tuala's third try in the 28-20 elimination final loss to Parramatta on Sunday was as good as it got for the Knights' big three.

Ponga was the busiest of the trio, setting up two tries in the defeat at Rockhampton's Browne Park.

But the Knights' No.1 also managed just 67 running metres and was twice left grasping thin air in defence for two of the Eels' first half tries.

At least Ponga provided some highlights for the Knights.

Sunday's game was a horror show for experienced half Pearce.

In a first-half to forget, the 32-year-old didn't make a running metre and missed five tackles.

In comparision, Eels' halfback Mitchell Moses made five runs for 85 metres with four tackle busts and a crucial individual try nearing halftime.

Things didn't get much better in the second half for Pearce.

After Tuala's try had got the Knights firmly back into the game, Pearce dropped the resulting kick-off - halting his team's momentum just as the Eels appeared to be reeling.

Later in the half, Pearce sent a bomb high into the central Queensland sky only for the ball to drift into the in-goal, allowing Clint Gutherson to catch it and defuse another spell of Knights pressure with a seven-tackle set.

Best, the 20-year-old damaging centre, also had little impact on the game.

In his first finals appearance, Best managed 154 running metres but couldn't make a linebreak.

He also committed two handling errors to gift the Eels possession.

Pearce's future at the Knights is far from certain amid reports he's been shopped around to rival clubs but Ponga and Best are key planks of Adam O'Brien's future plans.

Having ended the Knights' long wait for finals football last year and backing it up in 2021, O'Brien will be hoping his two young stars can stay fitter for longer next year to give his team hope of firing when it matters in 2022.